Potty training children with additional needs
Almost all children can learn to be clean and dry. Children with special needs including delayed development and physical disabilities may take a little longer and need more support. However, the process you need to follow is the same.
This can feel like a big challenge, but it's important not to put off potty training for too long. The longer your child wears a nappy, the harder it may be to introduce a new place for them to wee and poo.
There's information and tips on this page to support children with additional needs and sensory issues.
How to potty train your child with additional needs?
We recommend breaking potty training into stages and tailor your approach on their abilities.
Our 3 step Let's Go Potty approach has been developed to suit all children and abilities. This includes children with autism, ADHD, developmental delay, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome.
Potty training with autism
There is no evidence that suggests autism causes delayed potty training. However, autistic children may be more likely to struggle to learn potty training skills due to sensory problems or learning disabilities.
They may also be more likely to suffer from constipation. If your child is autistic, research suggests that starting learning in infancy and avoiding constipation is the best way to avoid problems in the future. Get more information about supporting autistic children who have constipation.
One of the hardest things for many autistic children to cope with is a sudden change in routine or habit. This is why the more you can do before you stop using nappies the better, to help make this transition as gentle as possible for them.
Our Let's Go Potty approach has been designed to help your child make this transition whatever their needs are.
Potty training and delayed speech
Non-verbal and neurodivergent children can’t always communicate their thoughts and feelings. This means you can’t rely on their signals to tell you when they’re ready to potty train.
You may need to take more responsibility for knowing how often your child goes for a wee or poo and using this to help direct them.
Here's what we recommend doing to help your child learn this skill:
- Complete a bladder/bowel assessment chart so you can see how often they are doing a wee or poo. (Make sure any underlying constipation is treated.)
- Base your potty or toilet routine based on this information. Take them at set times according to what the chart tells you.
- If they wet themselves at another time, take them to the toilet as quickly as possible and try to get them there so some of the wee goes into the toilet. Ignore the wetting and positively reinforce that the wee has gone into the toilet and continue the rest of the toileting routine.
- Use verbal and visual clues. Introduce simple books on the subject consistently using the signs, sounds or words that your child can use. Reinforce verbal clues with a visual clue – use photos, drawings, pictures, images and social stories when preparing them to use the potty. Using these images to create visual schedules will make it easy for your child to follow the new routine and make it more predictable.
- Using sign language for common toileting words and phrases can also reinforce learning.
Potty training children with Down syndrome
We are delighted to be partnering with Down Syndrome UK and Positive about Down syndrome to share their fantastic #Pants4school Step by Step Programme. Enabling children with Down Syndrome to be toilet ready for school and reach their full potential.
Download the programme today! (opens in new browser).
Tips for children with additional needs
- Your child may take longer to learn each stage, so consider your expectations and don’t rush the learning.
- Focus on one stage at a time. For example, teach them that poo goes down the toilet by flushing it away together.
- Be as consistent as possible. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be for your child to learn.
- It’s important that your child feels relaxed, comfortable and secure about using the toilet or potty. Make sure the space is accessible to your child. An Occupational Therapist (OT) can help with practical adaptations.
- Think about your child's sensory needs and how these relate to using the bathroom. Adjusting the sensory input can make a difference for many children to help them to learn toileting skills.
- If you start with the toilet you should use a footstool to help your child feel confident and safe. This will also help your child get into the best position for doing wees and poos, with their feet supported and knees above hips.
- Help your child learn the physical skills needed by breaking them down into smaller steps and allowing your child to do the last step independently. For example, help them push their trousers down most of the way, then have them push the last bit down themselves. Same when pulling them up again.
- Encourage independence as soon as you see it developing, phasing out support once your child shows competence.
- Use stories, visual charts, props and games to teach your child what to do and how to do it. Make your own learning aid by taking photos of your bathroom, drawing pictures of the steps, or by searching on the Internet for visual routines. A standard routine could be: 1.Undress 2. Underwear down 3. Sit 4. Do wee/poo, 5. Wipe, 6. Pull up underwear, 7. Pull up trousers/dress, 8. Flush toilet, 9. Wash hands.
- Give your child positive encouragement and praise for the efforts they are making, not just the result. This can help to keep them motivated and willing to move to the next step.